Marlborough; Thoughts after Visiting this Widely Known Region

Marlborough, New Zealand. I want to paint it in lights and wave my hands through the air like a banner as I say it with grandiosity. It’s the pinnacle of wine regions in this country… isn’t it?

If we hadn’t worked in the industry here, and were living in Canada as our regular old, wine loving, WSET certified wine fan selves, and we were given the choice to pick one wine region in New Zealand to visit, we would have chosen Marlborough, all day, hands down. I’d bet that’d be the common vote across most wine fans. There’s a simple reason for this, and it’s the same reason why we want to visit Tuscany in Italy, or the Barossa in Aussie, or Mendoza in Argentina. Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc to New Zealand is like Rioja to Spain, or Zinfandel to California, or Chennin Blanc to South Africa. I have to pay respect to Marlborough for producing something that has grabbed the attention of internationals, because it’s given all other regions the chance to start showcasing that New Zealand is producing some exceptional wines. And if you like Sauvignon Blanc, New Zealand really is the country you should be looking to, and Marlborough is the region that it mostly comes from, although I do challenge you to try Hawke’s Bay Sauv, or Central Otago, or any of the other regions as well.

Upon flying into Marlborough in our wee, 9 seater plane, we got to see it from a bird’s eye view.

It is stunningly beautiful, as is most of New Zealand; I noticed though, that it is almost fully planted in vines. There are hardly any orchards, and hardly any trees. There is hardly anything else, actually, because they’re running out of space entirely to plant vines. Sauvignon Blanc production has basically consumed Marlborough.

As we made our way around the region, we learned that there are over 40 Cellar Doors, and a lot of them are for large brands. We went to a few big producers, like Brancott Estate, who planted the first Sauvignon Blanc vines in Marlborough in 1979, and Giesen.

We visited some smaller ones, like No.1 Family Estate, a solely Methode Traditionnelle producer that is 12/13th generation from France and does exceptional champagne-style wines. We loved everything at No.1 Family Estate.

We were also guests of Hans Herzog (Swiss family making very natural style wines), Framingham (producing delicious, aromatic wines), and Fromm (using organic growing and dry farming). We were impressed with the Rieslings at Framingham, Fromm’s Pinot Noir, and the Cellar Door Exclusive Zweigelt at Brancott.

We saw the industrial side of Blenheim when we went for a tour of our sister winery, Brancott.

It’s surrounded by several other wineries that all have tanks and presses of sizes so large I could hardly wrap my mind around them. In knowing how large our presses are, I was whispering to my friend along the tour, “did she just say it has that much capacity? Did I hear that number right?”

I took a journalist for a tour/interview at work the other day, and she asked me, “if travellers only had time/money to visit one wine region in New Zealand, why should they pick yours? Why Hawke’s Bay?” I had to stop and think for a moment before I responded, because where do I even start? My answer of “obviously because it’s the best,” wouldn’t have been appropriate for a journal article, so I went into a bit more depth. I could write an entire article on just this, but I’ll try to sum up my passion for Hawke’s Bay into a single paragraph.

Hawke’s Bay, although it is the second largest wine region in New Zealand, only exports around 10% of the wine leaving the country; this means we are largely boutique and small production, ensuring more interesting wines, made by real people who strive for wines of quality. We have an extremely diverse array of over 25 different microclimates created by our soils, mountain ranges, Mediterranean climate and sea breezes. This allows us to grow a wide selection of varietals and make wines of all kinds, so like I told the journalist, if you like Bubbles, we have it, Rosé, we have it, all kinds of white wine, we have it, light to heavy red wine, we have it. We’re the only region that does it all. With over 38 Cellar Doors, there’s plenty to try, and we have so much here in addition to the exceptional wine, like orchards, capes, walks, beaches, harbours, museums, history, culture, over 2000 sunshine hours per season, and a great restaurant scene, to name a few.

As I’ve travelled to wine regions and gotten to sample local wines, I’ve noticed there are amazing wines in almost every region that are not mainstream; however, as a traveller I was mostly there to try as many producers and styles of the specific varietals I knew the places for. Since working in the industry in this country, I’ve had the opportunity to change my focus. I’ve seen first hand that there is infinitely more to a country’s wine production than what’s exported. Yes, infinitely more.

When we went back to Canada last year, we were excited to take a browse of the New Zealand isle and see what was available to our friends and families. We were disheartened to find so many mass production labels, that our wine region of New Zealand is so poorly represented, and that most regions here aren’t represented at all. Many of the labels we found aren’t real wineries. They’re brand labels made specifically for export, and although are sometimes decent examples of characters a wine from that area may exhibit, it would be hard to say they’re high quality wines. When people send me photos of Hawke’s Bay wines they’ve found and ask if we’ve been to their Cellar Door, I’m thinking, “no, that’s not a real place, but I drive past the factory where it’s made sometimes…” There is a market for that, yes, but it’s sad to see that those labels seemed to be all that was available. That being said, we really don’t have many wine factories here in the Bay to produce large enough quantities for export at cheap enough prices, unlike Marlborough.

It got me thinking about how many of the other countries of the world are this poorly represented.

What are we missing out on that’s exceptional?

Likely all countries are sending mostly or maybe exclusively mass production wines from only their widely known regions, of only their popular varietals overseas, because that’s what sells. Wine is a business, just like any other, and sales is the biggest thing that matters.

Make wine people will buy. That’s the goal.

The average consumer isn’t buying wine to appreciate the terroir, and to try something different and experience sense of place and be part of the story the weather told that year. They’re looking for an alcoholic beverage with good value, and taste consistency across vintages. To do this, you need multiple recieval bins, huge presses, huge tanks, and huge everything else too, along with some winemaking tricks. Your vintage is just as long as everyone else’s and you’ve got to make the volume happen in the same short 6 weeks, hence the larger, “factory” looking places we saw in the South.

I’ve got to say that in visiting Marlborough, I found there were lots of really nice, interesting wines, that are of quality. Some of what were my favourite wines really surprised me, because they were at a big producer’s tasting room, not the place I expected to have anything interesting. I really enjoyed doing single vineyard comparisons of two of Geisen’s Sauvignon Blancs, and three of their Pinot Noirs; I loved smelling and tasting the expression of the terroir of each vineyard. It was refreshing to see that side of the industry does exist, even in Marlborough, and even with Sauvignon Blanc, although it is a small part down there. This goes to show that even the big producers can do small production stuff that is interesting; however, most of it’s sold locally, so you’ll only find it if you actually go visit the region.

Visiting Marlborough as a wine enthusiast, and as an industry person, was worth it. Despite mixed opinions in the industry on the region and its famous wine, I believe every New Zealand industry person should experience it for themselves. I want to go back again with my husband so he can understand it personally, and I’d love to visit more of the places I unfortunately missed on this last trip. Marlborough is beautiful, iconic for the country, and wines of quality can be found at several wineries. And if you only drink Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir, you’ll definitely love Marlborough.

I do challenge you though, if you’re visiting this gorgeous country to experience some interesting and quality made wines, please keep in mind that there’s so much more to New Zealand outside the borders of our famous wine region. Take the time to explore the other regions and varietals if you really want to know what this country can do. Even within Marlborough, there’s so much more than just Sauv. There are some beautiful aromatic varietals and Chardonnays, and Pinot Noirs coming out of the region, and there are great small producers making sustainable and unique Marlborough wines. Although our identity to the world is largely represented by Marlborough Sauv, and that is a part of who we are, we have a much deeper wine identity, and I suspect many other countries are the same.

On a fun, side note, Marlborough Pinot Noir is just as good for breakfast as Central Otago Pinot. Pinot Noir as a breakfast wine is surprisingly great!

Now that I’ve seen our most iconic region, I’ve been asked if I wish I had chosen to live and work in Marlborough instead of Hawke’s Bay.

Well, you read the article.

Not for one millisecond.

The 3Sixty2 Story; Sustainable Boutique Marlborough Wines

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Alice Rule is the face behind 3Sixty2, a boutique wine label producing small batch Marlborough wines. Along with Cooper, the dog, who has a big piece of Alice’s heart, Alice spends her free time paddle boarding, or catching up with friends.

Growing up as the oldest child in her split family, Alice knew no other life as a kid than to work hard, help her Dad around the dairy farm on which she was raised, and watch out for her younger sister. Born and raised in a rural area in the Bay of Islands, Alice and her sister would choose between who would feed the calves and who would make their lunches before racing to catch the bus to Kawakawa School. After school, she went straight back to work to help her Dad finish up anything that needed to be done on the farm. She was no where near wine then; it wasn’t a part of her upbringing.

School wasn’t a big priority to Alice as a teen, and she was kicked out of high school at the age of 17. Her parents finally had enough and told her she needed to get herself together and do something meaningful with her life. She decided that training as a chef sounded intriguing, so she enrolled in the course at the Culinary Institute of NZ. Part of her requirements was a 3 day per week job in a restaurant. As chance would have it, she came across a job at Marsden Estate, a small, family owned winery. Every day, the whole family (even Grandma, Alice notes) sat down for coffee together at 10.00am, and included the staff. One morning, a contractor called Hobo said to everyone at coffee, “why do you have Alice working in the kitchen? Do you know who her Dad is?” He recognized the farm skill and pure hard work ethic she had and moved her into the vineyard instead. Alice comments that “from there, there was no looking back. I knew wine was for me. They shipped me off to EIT to study wine.”

Once she graduated, she returned to Northland to work there; however, during her time at EIT, she worked part time for Hoggle, the Vineyard Manager of Moana Park. She asked if she could help after she was done school for the day, and he said, “I can’t pay you, but yeah.” Alice says about Hoggle that “he became a real mentor of mine, so I learned as much as I could. And he’d pay me in this wine called ‘Hog Snort’ he made himself. Hog Snort was a real luxury as a student and I had to work really hard for it cause I only got a few bottles!”

Alice has worked 10 vintages now, at a wide range of New Zealand wineries. She’s worked at some smaller places, like Marsden Estate, Omata and Fat Pig in Northland, Craggy Range and Church Road in Hawke’s Bay, as well as huge ones like Indivin and Corban’s. She’s even done 2 vintages in the same season, starting in Aussie, and finishing that same autumn at Moana Park in New Zealand. She was a Technical Viticulturist at Te Mata too, which was a great expression of her vineyard passions.

So why did she start her own label? In 2016, she realized that even with her experience and education, the vineyard she was at paid the bird scarer the same wage as they paid her.

She was over working for little to make someone else’s wine dreams come true; it was time for her to take the leap and start building towards her own dream. She called up her good friend, Phil, who is a winemaker in Marlborough to see if he would partner with her to produce the kinds of wines she wanted to make. Even as a small start up, she had her long term vision of being an international brand in mind, and knew that Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc was key. With a personal love for Chardonnay, she wanted to produce it as well. Phil agreed, and they were off.

With Phil and the winery Alice uses being in Marlborough, and her desire to make a Marlborough Sauv, it makes perfect sense that all her fruit comes from that region as well. She lives and works in Hawke’s Bay, because she feels it’s the place to be with its accessibility to Auckland and Wellington, the two main centres that distribute her brand. She travels to Marlborough monthly to personally check in on the wines, is there during harvest, and communicates daily with her winemaking partner, Phil.

Her day job is with a tech company out of Auckland, and she is currently working on a project for NZ Wine Growers on the Technical Advisory Committee for Sustainable Wine Growers. Sustainability is a huge passion of Alice’s, and she dedicates her heart and soul to not only the sustainability of her brand, but on creating ways to improve the sustainability of the industry across the country. She says about her job that her “hours are all over the place,” but it “gives flexibility to spend on the wine” and to work with her customers.

The 3Sixty2 name pays homage to the land where Alice is from, as well as the history of the industry in the country. She had won a Young Viticulture award when she was in EIT, and instead of a trophy she received a copy of “Chances and Visionaries” by Keith Stuart, who wrote about the history of New Zealand wine. Alice says she “always refers back to that book,” and there was the story of how James Busby brought cuttings into New Zealand and was teaching orphans to grow grapes. He had taken over 500 cuttings from Europe, but only 362 survived the journey. Alice explains that the name “pays homage to a visionary that I have great respect for.”

As well as sustainability, focusing on reducing carbon emissions, and going plastic free as much as possible, Alice’s company mandate revolves around “driving the circular economy.” She gives the example of glass to explain. “Glass is circular. It’s made out of natural products and the bottles I use are, on average, 67% recycled glass.”

She makes the point that often, conventional wines are criticized for not being as sustainable as organic ones, but with all of her research and experience in the industry, she has found that the best wines are grown with a mixture of the two. There have to be certain practices taken into account to make a wine sustainable. Alice explains, “the best vineyards I have worked in grow cover crops, reduce pesticide, use fewer chemicals, and do less passes through the vineyard. This is because the sprays are more efficient, support microbial activity in the soil, compost, and typically use less copper, which I quite firmly believe is the most toxic chemical to soil health and is less likely to cultivate.”

On the somewhat controversial topic of organics, she comments, “I think organics has taught conventional producers a great deal and is an important part of the wine-producing biosphere and how we treat our land. But I challenge the common perception that organic grape production is kinder on the soil.” She wants to bring greater awareness to sustainability in all schools of winemaking.

Many producers focus on making wine as naturally as possible, but Alice feels “the packaging the wine comes in should be as natural as the wine itself,” and therefore pays lots of attention to hers. As well as advocating for low weight bottles, she uses no cellotape, only FSA, New Zealand made boxes, and Environmark Gold certified labels from a specific producer. She has also created “362 Trees for Bees” and partners with an initiative supporting New Zealand native plantings.

Similarly, in taking responsibility and care for her environmental impact, she wants to care for those that she contracts with, and says that if she can make her wines better, she can pay her staff better. “I never want to pay anyone as little as I was paid. There’s got to be a better way.” She points out that “it’s an element of sustainability we often forget about.”

As of 2016, you’ll be able to find 3Sixty2 Sauvignon Blanc, and Chardonnay. Most recently, in 2019, Alice added a red to her label, Pinot Noir. She describes it as “not delicate or floral,” and because of the smaller berries she got, she was able to give it “more concentrated skin contact.” Like Alice’s other wines, it’s unique in that it’s a “kick you in the face Pinot Noir.”

She does partial wild ferment on all of her wines, which contribute to more complex and interesting flavours. Even her Marlborough Sauv is 25% wild fermented. She “loves the character of what it brings and how it expresses the terroir.” For the rest, she prefers to inoculate with a 5-in-1 yeast that brings out more complexity.

She doesn’t like too much reduction in Chardonnay, and prefers a restrained version, similar to the styles she was helping make in Northland. She uses hand harvested fruit, presses it in whole bunches and ferments it in old oak barrels for a subtle flinty character. She has been experimenting with oak marbles from Tony Bish too. She loves some oak in a Chardonnay, but as sustainability is key, she poses the question of, “what am I going to do with all these barrels after I’m done with them?” If she can find a way to impart similar character, that’s more sustainable, that’s her number one goal.

She produced just over 3000 bottles in 2016. 2017 was around the same, but she faced the same challenges as many did in 2018 with a less than desirable vintage and decided not to produce that year. She’s had other challenges as well, like her original brand not standing out on the shelves. She was in a difficult relationship that was taking its toll when she released her first label, and admits that it didn’t get the thought it should have. She has completely rebranded since and is proud of her new branding.

Her labels showcase the honour she pays to the history of New Zealand wine. On the Chardonnay label you’ll see the pattern that was on the original, hand written treatise that Busby documented. The circle represents the official stamp on the original documents, a symbol of authority. Alice loves that her labels represent not only where wine began for her, in Northland, but where it began for the country.

In addition to overcoming the rebrand challenge, Alice explains how difficult it can be as a solo, woman founder. She is supporting herself and her brand in a region away from her family. “We work our guts off in this industry and the days are hard and expensive.” Is it worth it? Alice joked that “if you’d asked me last week, I’d have sold it to you! But this week, yeah, it’s worth it.” Her jestful response shows how difficult and emotional this industry can be. Despite that, she says, “I love 3Sixty2. I love making wines. I love being in the industry and I love making blends.” She clearly has a lot of love for what she does, and also realizes it’s her art. “I’m a creative person. I love talking with my winemaker and looking at interesting components, and next steps.” Both wines have done her proud, with the Sauv getting a Silver Medal through Bob Campbell’s Real Review, and the Chardonnay getting Bronze.

When I asked her what she’s learned being in this industry, she responded with the word “grit.” She’s realized the biggest lesson is that “you’ve just got to take the punches and carry on going.” She comments that “the business part is intimidating and sales are hard,” but she’s proactive in facing the challenge head on; she’s enrolled in a weekly business course to help her grow in those areas. Alice is determined and when she faces challenges, she chooses to “find the motivation to carry on. You’ve got to sink or swim.”

She is grateful to see that “there are good people in the industry fighting tooth and nail for their dream and it is not easy.” Alice comments that “the most magical thing” is the “good people that support your dream,” and seeing customers love her wine. “There’s nothing more exciting than seeing your wines loved. There’s nothing more satisfying than that.” She comments about industry people and customers alike, that “the people have made all of the challenges totally worth their while.”

You can find 3Sixty2 wines at boutique wine stores in Auckland and Wellington, as well as Milk and Honey in Hawke’s Bay. If you want to enjoy them at home, find her on Instagram @3sixty2 or order online at http://www.3sixty2.com.

The de la terre Story; Boutique Hawke’s Bay Winemakers

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“de la terre:” from the earth.

Those three words sum up what Tony and Kaye Prichard of de la terre are all about: provenance.

“Own what’s in the glass, grow your own grapes, do it yourself. That’s really important to us.” – Tony

When you pull up to Tony and Kaye’s winery, after a relaxing, beautiful drive through the winding country-side of Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand, you’ll instantly notice you’re somewhere special.

You will feel like you’re a visitor to an old, French country cottage. Gracie, the friendly dog, will greet you as you begin walking the path to the solid cedar double doors. You will hear the gravel crunch underneath your feet, and as you survey the hilly landscape, you’ll take in the scent of freshly cut grass, blooming flowers, and clean air. You’ll also notice the aroma of a warm loaf of Kaye’s home made bread, or a from-scratch pizza baking in the clay oven, and take note to pop over to the cafe as soon as you’re finished your tasting.

As you set foot inside the earth brick winery, you will meet Tony himself, who will take you through your selected choices from 13 of his 16 wines, kept fresh in his personally designed and home-made wine dispensing machine. He’ll explain how he has made each of the unique and distinctive wines he produces, and you’ll be amazed at the exceptional quality, depth and complexity of each of them. When you purchase your wine, you’ll notice that each bottle has been hand numbered by Kaye, just one example of the incredible detail that goes into every single element of what de la terre does.

After your degustation, you will partake in a beautiful meal or platter of Kaye’s delicious, home made food, perfectly paired with the de la terre wines of your choice. While you eat, the three-tiered pergola water feature above you (that Tony built himself) or a crackling log fire in the pizza oven will bring calm serenity to relax you before you head off . . . until next time. You already know you’ll be back.

So how did Tony and Kaye create this incredibly special place for their customers to experience?

It all began when they met each other in their early 20’s as Food Tech students at Massey University in Palmerston North. Kaye was enrolled in the product development side of the programme and Tony was enrolled in the engineering side. On their first days of school, neither Tony or Kaye thought they’d graduate from a Food Tech programme and eventually own their own winery, but low and behold, that’s what happened.

Kaye had been raised visiting the vineyards of her father’s winemaker friends, and remembers really liking a popular, sweet, sparkling wine as a young girl. Tony had also tried a sparkling in his early years at his brother’s wedding, in an old-style goblet, and remembers not liking it, yet being mesmerized by it; he was curious as to how it was made.

They give the real credit though, for the spark of their wine journey, to an influential lecturer, Malcolm Reeves, co-founder of Crossroad Winery, who used to put on wine tastings for his students on Friday’s. As you can imagine, wine tastings on Friday afternoons were very well received by the students, so Tony and Kaye began attending. Tony recalls one afternoon where Malcolm poured a Chardonnay, a Sauvignon Blanc and a Riesling, then put them in bags to disguise them before pouring them again, blind. Tony guessed them correctly, and thought to himself, “this winemaking stuff is easy. I can do this!”

He couldn’t picture himself as a food tech engineer, wearing a white uniform in a dairy factory somewhere for the rest of his life. He knew in his soul that he was a “maker of things,” and wanted to make wine.

Upon graduating, Tony found an advertisement in the paper for an Assistant Winemaker position at the Montana Winery in Gisborne. Many people in his class applied, but Tony was chosen for the job. When I asked him why, he said he isn’t sure, but it could have been to do with his passion. Knowing how passionate and skilled he is today, I would agree that Montana made the right choice. Tony explains that in those days, there weren’t winemaking degrees like there are now. Two of the decision makers for Montana also had Food Tech degrees, like Tony, and perhaps wanted someone without any winemaking ideas of his own, who could be trained and moulded. His Food Tech course had indeed prepared him quite well for the science of winemaking; everything else he learned on the job.

The two were married in 1983.

Tony worked as Assistant Winemaker for Montana for 3 years, doing huge volumes (for example, 15,000 tonne vintages). He was promoted to Chief Winemaker in 1986. As Tony began working at Montana, Kaye completed a Cordon Bleu Certificate Course in Auckland.

In 1989, Montana bought Church Road Winery and re-opened it, making Tony the Chief Winemaker at both the Gisborne Winery, and Church Road. Running both places in two locations was exhausting. Tony and Kaye moved to Hawke’s Bay in 1990 so Tony could focus solely on Church Road, where he spent 15 years in total.

He remembers many of the early years at Church Road with fondness. “It was family and fun in the early days,” Tony says, but unfortunately, through a couple of ownership changes, Tony eventually tired of the increasing corporate reporting and compliance in those companies; he also tired of not being able to see the wines he made into the bottle, as the bottling plant was in Auckland.

Tony and Kaye remember a specific afternoon drive they took, where through the conversation, Tony realized that he was ready to move on. He had always told his staff, “if you’re driving to work and you’re not happy, and you don’t want to be going here, you should be looking for something else.” Tony realized he needed to take his own advice; they both already knew what to do.

They had visited Burgundy in 1995, and remember it vividly.

We would be “driving through little streets, and see a small house and underground cellars and there’s a press and some barrels and a few tanks, and you go along and there’s another one, and here were people living and breathing wine, and that was their livelihood and that struck a chord. Even before that we’ve always been makers of things. Having been trained in winemaking it seemed like a logical progression to make our own.”

Tony and Kaye had previously found their property in 1992, when it was just a green paddock with nothing on it. Being the makers of things that they are, they had built their house and workshop from scratch. After Tony left Church Road in 2005, he started a successful wine consulting business, and set about designing and building the winery. Ever since Tony can remember, he’s been building and making anything from furniture to beer; he wanted to make the winery too. It took them 4 years to get the winery up, and although Tony had begun producing some wines in the meantime with some of his consulting clients’ grapes, de la terre’s first vintage in the new winery was in 2009.

The name “de la terre” doesn’t just represent the way Tony makes his wine. The principle of using what is from the earth (de la terre) is weaved throughout the whole place. The winery is built with “earth bricks” that came from a local earth brick maker, who uses highly compressed soil to make them. Tony and Kaye’s house is built in the sustainable “rammed earth” style, and is made completely of raw, natural materials. Tony built both himself, along with the wine dispensing machine he uses to serve his tasting wines.

The couple believes in doing as much as they can themselves, by hand, and not relying on other people; they wanted the control to determine how the winery was shaped, as well as how the wine turns out. Tony’s currently just finished the three-tiered water feature pergola that sits above their cafe patio, and the pizza oven that acts as centrepiece. This time though, now that the recent projects are done, he said he’ll “never build again.” Kaye just laughed and said, “I’ve heard that before!”

As for the vineyards, they took over the lease on their Hill Country Vineyard in 2013, which is 5.5 hectares in the Havelock North area, and they also lease a 0.5 hectare satellite vineyard down the road. All of their grapes come from those vineyards, and they employ a Vineyard Manager and some part time staff to ensure premium grape quality. The main vineyard is a unique terroir of very steep limestone terraces that create an individualized minerality in de la terre wines. Tony explains that “it’s less obvious in the reds, but people can pick it in the whites,” and he purposely tries to highlight the land and its minerality in the wine.

Tony and Kaye stand out in Hawke’s Bay for more than just their sustainable earth brick buildings and their terrior. Tony believes there are enough Bordeaux blends and Pinots around, and prides himself on producing unique varietals. “The last thing we need is another Merlot,” he says. He produces some really rare wines in New Zealand, like Tannat, Barbara, Tempranillo, Montepulciano, and a Chablis-style Chardonnay. Although you’ll find a few Viogniers in the Bay, Tony’s is quite different. He also makes late harvest and Noble wines from Viognier grapes.

While at Church Road, Tony had the opportunity to work closely with some French winemakers, and one of the key things he learned from them is to let the wine speak for itself. He believes that provenance, representing the land on which it was grown, is the most important thing for wine, rather than trying to manipulate it into what that varietal is “supposed” to taste like. It is for that reason that Tony chooses not to enter wine shows.

Despite not entering shows, de la terre wines are still highly reviewed by the best in the business, and often receive points well into the 90’s, and 5 stars, by writers like Bob Campbell and Michael Cooper.

Tony’s also launched a relatively new series called “The Cloud Series,” that is particularly unique, and actually started as a joke in 2016, with Chardonnay. It’s made almost in complete opposition to most Chards in the Bay, being unfined, and unfiltered, with “its own personality.” To make it, he did a hard press on Reserve quality grapes, wild fermented the must, used huge amounts of fully toasted Hungarian oak from his favourite producer… and couldn’t keep it on the shelves! It was wildly popular with its rich butterscotch, and savoury burnt butter character. It reminded me of popcorn, and I loved it! He has now added a Viognier to the Cloud Series, and the name is there to remind people that if it looks a little cloudy, that’s okay.

Tony uses many traditional winemaking techniques, and he is of the opinion that most winemakers these days use too many fining ingredients. As of 2014, he also doesn’t filter any of his reds. He prefers to do the more natural process of racking his wines every few months, as it increases the intensity and mouthfeel of them. He’s even done some unfiltered whites. Tony is entirely confident in what he puts into the bottle, and pours into each glass in the Cellar Door. Kaye quipped that the wines “don’t get into the bottle unless he’s completely happy with them.”

He’s most proud of his Reserve Viognier, for a reason most wouldn’t suspect. “It doesn’t taste anything like Viognier, and to me, that’s a beautiful thing.” His Montepulciano is a pride and joy because of its “brooding black fruit, black olive” character, and its tannin structure that “isn’t over-polished, but rough with coarseness.” Bob Campbell also seemed to like it, as it was his wine of the week in early September.

Tony’s favourite wine to make though, is his Blanc de Blancs! He makes it old-school like they do in Champagne, right down to the traditional riddling racks, and even disgorges à la volée, or “on the fly,” as the French monks once did. When I asked him how long it took to get the hang of that process, he said there’s definitely a trick to it, and proceeded to show me how precise he has to be with the bottle and the tools.

Although Tony makes a wide range of wines, de la terre is still quite small in production. He makes about 2500 to 3000 cases (of 12) per year, and jokes that at Church Road, he “used to spill that much before lunch time.” Being small, Tony and Kaye find it can be a challenge to get the de la terre name out. They don’t want to sell in supermarkets, but they do have a distributor who arranges en premise, fine wine and liquor store contracts for them throughout the country. They have been known to export a few wines to China, the UK, America, and even Canada! The sales side of the business, and promoting themselves, has been one of the biggest challenges they’ve had to overcome. They never know when the next sale will be. There are other stresses that they face, like losing staff, or having people move on that they love. With such a small team, training new people, or finding those that have aligning philosophies can prove to be a challenge too.

They’ve learned some important lessons over the years, one being that despite experience, you can never be sure of exactly what’s going to happen. Tony phrased it so genuinely.

“You start as a beginner, learn some stuff, think you’re red hot…your ego goes through the roof. The lesson is on the other side. You can never know it all. There are always so many variables that you don’t know about. You can very easily convince yourselves that you’re smarter than you are. You’re not. The more you make wine, the easier you think it will get. Well it doesn’t. We’re always fine tuning techniques. I look at what’s happened in the past and if it’s not where I want to be, [I use] my best guess in my experience and push the odds. If you have a problem and you’re not sure what to do, you throw a swack of things to it and try to fix it.”

I was awed by his attitude to become humble, realize what he doesn’t know, yet stay determined and persistent, and continue to deal with what comes at him; he chooses to learn from his past experience and do the best he knows how, while never giving up. I find this to be great advice for all of us, no matter what stage of life or industry we may be in.

Tony remembers the first Monday after he resigned at Church Road, when he had a moment that so many of us have amidst a big life change: did I make a mistake? Despite any challenges, Tony and Kaye feel in their hearts that it’s all been completely worth it. “I can’t think of doing anything else,” Tony says. “We’d be a lot wealthier, but would we be happier? I can’t ever imagine going back… everything you have, every ounce, goes into it. It’s very passionate.” They are truly living their passion.

I believe it is that passion that makes visiting Tony and Kaye so much more than just any winery visit. As Tony explains, “once people drive into de la terre, it goes beyond what’s just in the glass. It’s about a winery experience.” He loves hosting people in the Cellar Door, and pouring his wines himself. It’s a beautiful, “rustic and artisan” space to be in, that he’s created with his own hands. Tony describes the Cellar Door and his winery as his “happy place.”

Tony and Kaye invite you to head out to de la terre this season to experience the many things they can offer you from the earth. They are open from 10:00am to 5:00pm, Friday’s through Sunday’s, and most public holidays, from the first weekend in October to the first weekend in June. Visit their website at delaterre.co.nz for more info on the winery, wines or special events. You can purchase wine on their website as well, or contact them at sales@delaterre.co.nz.

So make the beautiful drive to experience de la terre for yourself. From the earth brick Cellar Door and restaurant, to Tony’s personalized tasting of his terroir driven wines, paired exceptionally at the cafe with Kaye’s fresh, home-made food . . . you really will experience de la terre.

#nzv19

New Zealand Vintage 2019… is done.

The end of vintage brings mixed feelings. On one hand, it’s sad to say goodbye to the time of year when everything the industry people have been working towards for the rest of the year is finally realized. It’s also time for all the vintage staff to be on their way back to their home countries, or on to the Northern Hemisphere for the next vintage. Saying goodbye to a team of people who have spent more time with each other than anyone else for the last 6 to 8 weeks can be difficult, especially if it was a great team that got along well and bonded over late nights and long days.

On the other hand, for all the Cellar Hands out there, vintage is exhausting, stressful, and can be all consuming, so it’s a relief to get back to a normal schedule, start sleeping again, and get the occasional day off. The “wine widows” are happy to have their partners back too.

As promised, I’ll outline briefly what our experiences of our first vintage were, and better explain some of the photos you saw on our social media profiles in the last 2 months.


Vintage for my winery started on the 26th of February. I’ll remind you here that I work in the Cellar Door, not the winery, (which my boss had to remind me of a couple times – sorry Mitch) so any time I got to spend in the winery was really special to me. I didn’t personally have the long days, no time off, and night shifts that all the Cellar Hands did (and wow, do I admire them for their work). I certainly did clock some hours out there when the Cellar Door was slow, on my days off, and after work, to hang out with the crew and get my hands on everything I was allowed to touch.

I was fortunate to be able to participate in the annual First Crush Ceremony, which was an unexpected honour for me. The grapes were loaded into the hopper, and before it was turned on, we had a speech with some high-ups in the company, and some of our Blanc de Noir (Champagne-style wine). Traditionally, everyone has a sip or two, and then throws the remainder of their wine into the hopper over the grapes. It’s a way of “blessing,” if you will, the next harvest with some wine from previous harvests. Ceremonies like this are practiced all over the world, and have been for years. Traditionally, the ceremony shows thanksgiving for the vineyards, the grapes, the workers, and begins the new vintage with a united team, hopeful for the vintage ahead.

My face when one of the Cellar Hands told me not to throw the entire wine glass in! 😂 Obviously.

I stuck around to watch the first crush, and tried some of the juice straight out of the press. It was a great day! I had no idea then just how many things I was actually going to experience this vintage.

The team began by bringing in Chardonnay for our bubbles, as well as some aromatic whites, like Pinot Gris and Sauvignon Blanc, and then moved onto Chardonnay. Whites lasted for weeks, and I made sure to try each type of grape as they came in, and each grape juice as it was pressed out of the tanks.

During this time, I learned how the hopper, auger, crusher and presses work in a lot more detail, how to rack a tank, how the barrels are filled, and got to try my hand at some Battonage (yeast lees stirring). I also got to learn about the process of several loads of grapes arriving in both trucks and in bins, and how the winery coordinates with the vineyards, pickers and truck drivers to manage it all.

Hand harvested Sauvignon Blanc being loaded up into the press

Meanwhile, Greg was doing his own vintage at his workplace. After seeing our first crush ceremony, Greg suggested his team do one as well; they took his suggestion and involved everyone there, including the Cellar Door team, to launch the vintage with Champagne. Greg’s First Crush Ceremony was on the 14th of March, when they brought in some Merlot for Rose. For his very first crush, he mostly cleaned equipment and learned how to do a thorough job of that. He helped run pumps, move hoses, de-stem and get the juice off of the skins.

Two weeks later, Greg’s winery brought in some whites. Greg had lots of different roles; sometimes he drove the tractor from the vineyard into the winery with loads of grapes, other times he helped operate the press. As his place is an Estate winery, everything is grown on site. With their small team, they often enlisted the help of picking gangs to come harvest the grapes on the days they were ready. Greg began doing more involved jobs, like loading the press, and continuing with that all important cleaning and sanitizing. He enjoyed harvesting the Chardonnay the most, but loved the taste of the Gewertztraminer grapes the best.

I got to experience my first harvest, and Greg’s second, when Greg and I helped our friends at Saorsa wines with their Viognier. I was so slow at first, but eventually got the hang of it!

As exciting as the whites were, I was thrilled when the reds began coming in. Merlot for Rose was the first red that came into our winery on the 24th of March, and the reds continued until the end of April.

Greg’s Winery brought in their first official red, Pinotage, on the 25th of March. He enjoyed harvesting the reds more than the whites, because although the reds require a lot more work in the winery over the next several months, the harvest day process is simpler. With the reds, Greg learned to do everything from pour overs, punch downs and rummages (to continually mix the juice and skins all together while they’re fermenting) to taking and recording data of temperature and Brix (sugar) levels in the active ferments every day.

His small team lead to some extra long days, as they had to finish processing the grapes that came in before they could go home. That same small team had some benefits for me though, as I was welcomed to come participate in some of the cellar work. I loved doing punch-downs, and helping with anything they’d set me up working on.

Couples who make wine together… 🍷

Meanwhile, at my own workplace, I was still taking every chance to be out in the winery. I witnessed a few dig outs (emptying skins from the tanks after fermentation is done) and got to try everything from taking the temperature of the cap of grape skins at the top of the tanks, to testing Brix (sugar) levels in wine, rummages (blowing compressed air into the tanks to mix up the skins through the juice and regulate the temperature of the ferment), and even running the hopper (with much needed and excessive supervision)!

Rummaging the Cuves
Testing the Brix
Taking the temperature of the cap of grape skins
Learning to run the hopper with a load of red grapes

Greg and I helped our friends at Element Wines harvest their Merlot, and got another little harvest under our belts.

Greg did his first dig out on his birthday!

A big highlight for me was when Alex of Saorsa allowed me to help him foot stomp his Syrah! This had been a dream of mine for years, and it was so amazing to actually get to do it.

Greg has also had the incredible and special opportunity to make his own wines. He’s got the mentorship of his Assistant Winemaker every step of the way, to help him create the style of wine he wants, and the benefit of the winery’s fruit and equipment. He is making a “field blend,” which is a mix of any and all grape types that come from the same block; his has 8 varietals in it, and will be a red wine. He’s also making a Chardonnay, and a Rose. He is learning to be a Winemaker on his own wines, which is an amazing way to learn. We’re so excited to try the finished products.

Greg’s Chardonnay
Greg tasting his field blend in the early stages
Greg’s field blend during the first week of fermenting

All of the grapes have been brought in now, but there is still much to do to tend to the wines, as they will be in the winery for months to years before they’re ready to be bottled. Greg continues to work on those tasks, and is doing some big jobs independently now. He continues to learn new things every day, and will soon be getting into pruning the vines with his Assistant Winemaker.

I’m spending more time back in the Cellar Door, and less in the winery now, but I’m reminded that it’s where I wanted to be, and still want to be – talking to people about wine, touring them around, and educating them about this passion of mine. There’s so much Greg and I have learned, and even more we want to learn. At the end of this first vintage we’ve gotten to be part of, the whole process of growing grapes and making wine is even more alive and exciting for us than ever before.

A Day in the Life; What Working in the Wine Industry Actually Looks Like for Greg

You all know we’re “working in the wine industry,” but we’ve been getting lots of questions about what we actually DO all day, our hours, colleagues, wineries, etc., so if you’re interested in the specifics, read on, and I’ll walk you through what Greg might do during a typical day or week. (I’ll post a separate blog for my typical week as they’re quite different!)

Greg works at Linden Estate Winery as a Vineyard Hand and Cellar Hand. For right now, he’s working Monday to Friday, 8:00 to 4:30. (This will change during harvest time.) The guys take coffee breaks, which they call “smoko,” in the mid-morning and the mid-afternoon. Linden provides basic coffee and tea for them, but Greg brings his own lunch.

He works with a small team at Linden, which he loves, because he gets to actually do a little bit of everything. Trevor is the Head Winemaker, and Alex is the Assistant Winemaker. Greg works closely with Alex most of the time, but spends a great deal of time with Trevor as well. There’s another man who drives the tractor and does most of the spraying and trimming of the vines.

Linden has a small Cellar Door, with only one full time Cellar Door host, and another office manager that helps as well. Greg doesn’t see them too often as he’s not in the Cellar Door.

As Greg works with the vines, his daily tasks are constantly changing with the stage of growth of the vines and grapes; the weather has an impact too. His vineyard has recently added some new blocks of vines, so their young vines need appropriate trimming to keep them growing upwards instead of outwards; they are too young for spray, so they need to be weeded manually. The guys go by hand and break off all the extra shoots that are not the main shoot of the vine.

The grass needs mowing in between the rows every so often in all of the blocks. This is part of Greg’s job.

As the more mature vines are growing, they grow like a bush and the branches spread out, but they need to grow straight up. There are wires in the vineyard that keep all of the rows contained. The branches that grow out need to be pushed back into the wires. Greg helps when the vines get taller and the wires need to be pulled up; this process is called “tucking,” and “lifting wires.”

(Pictured above is a comparison of vines that need to be tucked, versus cleanly tucked vines. The wires I mention are shown more clearly in the second photo.)

A few times per season the vines also require what’s called “bud rubbing.” Vines grow out of everywhere, even on the stumpy looking part of the vine at the bottom. If they were left there, they would grow up and cover the fruit from the sun, which wouldn’t allow the grapes to ripen properly. Vintners also just don’t want too many shoots growing because the more fruit a vine produces, the lesser the quality of the fruit. Wine will have more concentrated flavours and complexity if the vines only produce a small amount of fruit that they can invest all of their energy into. In order to prevent these extra shoots from growing, Greg will go from vine to vine and snap off any little shoots that are appearing, and rub off any buds that are beginning to show.

When he helps in the winery, he is working with the wine that was harvested within the last few years and is currently aging. As wine is aging in oak barrels, a small portion of it is constantly evaporating. (We call this the “angel’s share.”) At least once per month, if not more, the barrels need to be topped up with more wine until they’re literally overflowing, to ensure no oxygen is in the barrel. Oak allows a small amount in, but this is controlled and good to help the wine soften and be more palatable. Too much oxygen will ruin the wine and make it taste unpleasant. Greg helps refill the barrels with wine from a different tank. He has to pay close attention to which wines go in each barrel to keep them consistent with the grapes and years that the Winemaker wants.

Greg also cleans and sterilizes hoses, pumps and tanks before filling or using them. Once the Winemaker decides on the percentage of the blends for certain wines, Greg helps him transfer those wines together. He uses a barrel washer machine to clean out barrels once they’re empty. He mixes up a special compound that is applied inside the barrels to keep them sanitary while they’re in storage.

Greg also does a process called “batonnage.” When wines are aging in the barrel, the dormant yeast and other solids sink to the bottom. Sometimes, with certain wines, these are removed throughout the aging process. Other times, they are left during the aging process, and stirred occasionally through the wine, because they add complexity of flavour and contribute to a creamy mouthfeel. Batonnage is when Greg does the stirring.

Linden has additional clients that bring their grapes into the winery for Trevor, the Winemaker, to make into wine for them. Greg helps Trevor with whatever he needs for this as well.

Once the harvest begins, in late February, Greg will be working many more hours than he is now, and will be required to help with anything necessary. Getting grapes off the vine and into the winery has to happen in a very small window of time. The grapes need to be processed in the winery as soon as they’re off the vine, whether it is day or night. Harvest goes throughout March and into April. That will be a very busy, and important time of year for anyone in the industry.

We’ve also been asked if we get discounts on wine. You bet! It’s awesome. As we get such great prices, and the wines are good, lots of the wine we buy is from Linden (and lots from Church Road too). Greg comes home with the occasional, “here, drink this with your wife and tell us what you think,” wine, which is homework we’re definitely not complaining about. (I’ve been known to bring home a few left over bottles here and there as well.)

There are, of course, many other day to day tasks Greg does that can’t all be mentioned here, but hopefully you have a greater understanding of what his roles are, and can see why he appreciates the small team he works with and the wide variety of experience he’s gaining! He is really happy at Linden so far, and I’ll keep you updated on the craziness of our life, and his new tasks once harvest, or “vintage,” starts.

Two Natural Wines We Tried, and Why Natural Wines Could Be Better for Our Health

Natural Wine is gaining popularity as wine drinkers are wanting healthier, less chemically enhanced options. The trend in organic, clean foods is crossing over into a desire for wines with lower sulphites, farmed by real people and with minimal interventions. I’ve been doing more research on them myself, and after listening to a podcast about them this summer, I decided I wanted to try some truly natural wines, and contacted my local sommelier to have her add them to my wine locker. We don’t have many available yet in our small city, but she was able to help me find the ones we have access to. I had tried one of them at a wine tasting previously, (an orange wine – a white made like a red) and I wanted some reds this time, so she gave me two: a Bonterra Cabernet Sauvignon, and Our Daily Wines Red Blend.

I am excited to share our opinions of these wines with you, but before I review the wines, it will be helpful to explain what natural wine is, and how it is different than most commercial wines. Natural wine is essentially made how they would have done it in the old days. As you are reading about natural wine’s characteristics below, remember that the opposite is true in many other commercial wines that are on our shelves.

Natural wine is hand harvested, and basically, it’s made with nothing fake or processed. (Organic wineries can still use machines to harvest). The vineyards must be sustainable, organic and biodynamic. See my blog post Organic and Biodynamic Wineries in Kelowna for more information on these practices. No chemicals are used in the vineyard, but natural plant based fertilizers and pest control methods are employed. Natural yeast, or native yeast, is found in every vineyard, growing on grapes and living in the air, and this is the yeast used to make a natural wine. It’s harder to control, as it’s natural, so it can produce unpredictable flavours, even undesirable sometimes, but it’s not formulated in a lab, and this is important to natural wine lovers. To a certain degree sulphites are present in grapes and bottle sanitization methods, but in a natural wine it’s common to find little to none present. (Organic wineries can still use sulphites to clean the equipment and bottles, although many try to keep it to a minimum). Natural wine makers will allow fermentation to stop when the yeast dies either from high alcohol content, or temperatures that kill it off. They also don’t add anything to alter sugar levels, so there’s no simple syrup going into them, nor do they use chemical additives to alter acidity, so you get what you get. There are no dyes or artificial flavours added to enhance appearance or cover up mistakes or unpopular flavours. No fining or filtering agents are used to rid the wine of sediment either, so they’re vegan, and you just need to remember not to pour the last ounce to spare yourself the chunks! (I explain this in my blog linked above as well).

Bonterra – Cabernet Sauvignon from California (labeled as Organic). We dripped on the label, so pay no mind to the purple streak, other than as a color indication!

I did some research on the producer’s website to find out more about their natural practices: http://www.bonterra.com.

They practice organic and biodynamic farming, and they are actually certified Biodynamic, meaning they’re holding tight to all of the practices they should be.

Their tasting notes boast bright cherry, currant and raspberry, with hints of oak and vanilla. I would completely agree with this tasting note. It wasn’t too complex, but there were a few layers, and it still had that California Cab taste, just with a bit less intensity. The tannins were still high, and the finish was medium. The body was a bit less than other California Cabs, but not by much.

I emailed them twice to ask for more specific information about sulphites and if they use them to clean the bottles, but nobody got back to me either time. That’s a bit unimpressive to me; if you offer a place for comments and questions on your website, employ someone to monitor them and respond.

Overall, this was a very good wine, and I would drink it again, gladly.


Our Daily Red – Red Blend from California (labeled as “No preservatives added,” and organic).

I researched this one as well, and this one is truly a natural wine: ourdailywines.com.

Our non-GMO wine grapes are grown without the use of conventional pesticides, synthetic fertilizers or any chemicals deemed harmful to the environment. Furthermore, our certified organic winemaking facility allows for only minimal processing and prohibits the use of color, flavor or non-organic  additives and preservatives.

They also have no detectable sulphites, which is extremely rare in the new world.

Sulfites occur naturally in small amounts in a number of foods and also in wine. Winemakers add additional sulfites at various steps during the winemaking process to prevent oxidation and the growth of undesirable yeast or bacteria. At Our Daily Wines, however, we never add sulfites to our wines, and as a result of our care and processes, our wines are among the few commercially available which contain no detectable sulfites. We use natural, technologically advanced techniques to ensure freshness, resulting in wines that are the purest expression of the grapes and vintage.

They checked out in all of the areas I was concerned with in wanting a natural wine.

Now, for the taste!

It was acceptable. It had a bit of a yeasty aroma to it, which is to be expected from a natural wine. My mother-in-law was in the room when I swirled my glass, and without knowing anything about the wine, asked me from across the kitchen if I smelt yeast! It was noticeable, but I wouldn’t say unpleasant.

It was a red blend, and it had typical red fruit aromas of cherry and plum, and maybe some darker fruits like blackberry, but nothing intense. Their tasting note claims bourbon vanilla, but it was very faintly there. They claim a ripe and silky finish; it was balanced, in my opinion, and had a medium finish. It had light to medium tannins and light body, and reminded me of the same intensity as a Pinot Noir style red, although it was much lighter in body than a Burgundy.

Overall, it was a basic, simple wine, but it was perfectly enjoyable, and I liked knowing that it was very cleanly made, and had nothing in it that was bad for me. For people that drink wine a few times a week, it’s nice to know that there are options out there that don’t contain chemicals. Just like organic foods are healthier due to less chemical intervention in their growth, organic wines are healthier too, for the same reasons. They’re naturally grown, how they were meant to be.

I would purchase from either company again, and am curious to try some of their other varietals, if I ever see them in my travels. I encourage you to pick up a bottle of natural wine the next time you’re in the mood for something different, or a bit healthier!

Happy Wine-ing!

Aging Wine; The Need To Knows

“You get better with age like a fine wine…” ❤️

We’ve all heard sayings like this before that leave us to believe that all fine wine gets better with age.  This is partly true – many fine wines do get better with some age – but which wines are meant for aging and how long they should be aged, is actually quite a complex topic.  Then there are multiple factors that come into play regarding storage/cellar conditions that will either age wine well, or ruin it quickly.

A huge misconception I’ve come across in speaking with friends and family about wine is that it ALL gets better with age.  This is definitely not true!  There is a saying in the wine world that only 1% of wine is actually meant to be aged in the bottle, which means that 99% of the wine on the shelves right now is meant to be consumed within a few short years from now, or today!  More on specific aging times in a moment. I’ll tell you right now, that 1% more than likely didn’t cost less than $20 either, so if you’re hanging on to those $7.99 bottles, it’s time to grab some glasses, or possibly make dinner with some type of a wine sauce!

Wine needs to have certain qualities to give it the ability to age well.  Madeline Puckette, the creator of Wine Folly, gives 4 qualities that you can look for in a wine to determine if it is age worthy:  Acidity, Tannins, Alcohol Level, and Residual Sugar.  [1]

Acidity

The higher the acid in the wine, the better it will age.  When tasting wine, acidity is the factor that makes your mouth water.  It is often described as “crispness.”  Chablis, for example, has a high amount of acidity, and can age well, even though it’s made from white grapes. (Tip your chin down with the wine in your mouth and see how much spit forms. If there’s a lot, it’s higher in acid!)

Tannins

Lots of red grapes have high tannins and can be aged for several years.  Sometimes whites have tannins, but rarely.  Tannins are chemical compounds that come from the seeds, skins and stems of grapes.  When you taste them in wine, they’re not so much a flavour as a feeling.  (That dry feeling you get along your gums, like when you drink a way over-steeped tea, is the feeling of tannins!) In the process of making red wine, the grape juice sits with these parts of the grape, allowing the tannins to enter the wine.  Some can come from oak contact as well.  Certain grapes are more tannic than others, depending on their composition, and certain wines will be more tannic if they’re left to sit with the skins, etc. for longer periods of time.  These tannins can be bitter and harsh in young wines, but they help them age well because with time, the tannins “soften,” and become more “well-rounded.”  This basically means that instead of the wine tasting sharp and pungent in your mouth, it will taste more smooth and balanced; higher tannin wines need age to taste better.

Alcohol Level and Residual Sugar

Red wines with higher alcohol content, closer to the 14% mark, will typically age better than lower alcohol reds.  Whites have lower alcohol in them, but some grapes have particular compounds and sugar levels that will allow for a decent amount of residual, that is, left-over sugar, once the fermentation process is done.  These whites, like Rieslings, for example, have a balance of sugar and acid that enables them to age well.

So now that you’ve determined you’ve got a wine you’re going to hold on to, here are some things to think about before you put it away and forget about it.

Screwcap vs. Synthetic Cork vs. Real Cork  

The method of capping wines is still a largely debated topic in the wine industry.  Real cork, vs. synthetic cork, vs. screwcap – there are a lot of opinions out there on which is best and why.  For more information on this topic, check out my article Real Cork vs. Synthetic Cork and Screwcaps. For the purposes of this article, I’ll only comment related to wine’s age-ability and storage.

Australia and New Zealand initiated the use of screw caps, and still use them on many of their wines.  Other countries have started following suit.  A screw cap does not indicate poor quality wine, it’s simply a method that some producers believe is the best way to seal their wines.  Wines with screw caps don’t need to be laying down for storage, but they can be. Screw caps haven’t been tested for super long term aging, but some can last a decade or more.

Wine professionals have recommended to me, on more than one occasion, that synthetic cork should not be left in contact with the wine for long periods of time; they say it can leave a plastic type taste in the wine, and can also leave other synthesized compounds in the wine, that they don’t want to be consuming several years down the line.  Stand those synthetic cork wines up for any length of storage.  Fair enough. These are also only guaranteed for a few years at best.

Wine with a real cork must be stored lying down.  Cork is a natural compound, and it dries out over time.  By lying the wine on its side, the wine stays touching the bottom of the cork, and the moisture helps to keep the cork damp enough that it shouldn’t dry out.  This is important, because if the cork dries out, it shrivels up and shrinks, letting too much unwanted air into the bottle.  Over the years, the overdose of oxygen will ruin the wine, leaving it “oxidized” and undesirable. Natural cork has proven the test of time and has lasted sometimes for hundreds of years.

Cellar Conditions

Have you ever been to a winery, or seen photos of their cellars?  What do you notice about them?  They’re usually cool, dark, and damp, and the wine is off to the side and out of the way so it doesn’t have to be moved.

Cellar conditions for ideal wine storage should be between 10 and 15 degrees Celsius, and shouldn’t change much.  Light shining onto the bottles for some time can alter the wine inside, whether it’s natural or artificial light.  Humidity will help keep the corks damp, so they stay plump and tightly sealed to the inside of the bottle’s neck.  The more you can leave the wine alone, without bumping it and moving it, the better its chances are of aging well.

When wine is resting well, it’s aging well, similar to you!  Just think of how well you would rest if someone kept changing the temperature on you, shining light on you, and bumping you around – exactly.  This is why I can’t sleep on an airplane. If you want your wine to be pleasant, give it a good rest!

Did you know that storing wine in a kitchen is actually one of the worst places in a home environment to keep it?  The temperature fluctuates the most in kitchens/bathrooms out of any of the rooms in your home.

How Long is Too Long?

There is a window of time that most wine professionals believe wine is at its best.  The window will vary slightly for each wine, but at a certain point, it will hit its peak, and begin to decline in quality again.  There is no exact way to know when this is, so it can feel like a risk when you’ve been aging a wine for a while, and want to make sure it’s at its best before popping that old cork ever so gently!

So many great wines become collector’s items, and people spend so much money on them, that they never want to drink them.  I once heard someone on a wine documentary say something to the effect of how many of the world’s greatest wines have essentially gone to waste, sitting in someone’s cellar for way too long, because people don’t understand how wine ages.  There’s a time and place for cellaring wine, but in the end, wine is meant to be drunk.

Jancis Robinson’s The Oxford Companion to Wine is one of my favourite wine books.  She says, “contrary to popular opinion, only a small subgroup of wines benefit from extended bottle aging.  The great bulk of wine sold today, red as well as white and pink, is designed to be drunk within a year, or at most two, of bottling.”[2]

In her expert opinion, she goes on to list specific numbers of years that several particular types of wine should be aged for, of which I’ve only included a few popular choices.  Almost all whites retailing under the $20 range should only be bottle aged to a maximum of 2 years.  Heavier whites, like Chardonnay can sometimes last up to 6 years.  More expensive whites can age longer, like Chablis (up to 15 years), or some Rieslings (up to 20).[3]  This has to do with the structure of the particular grapes, and how they’re produced.

Surprisingly, the number doesn’t differ much for reds.  If they’re around that same $20 mark or under, the longest Jancis recommends you keep them is 3 years.  You can hang onto higher priced French wines in your cellar from 15 to 25 years, Italian Chianti or Spanish Rioja can present nicely up to 10 and 20 respectively as well.  Above the $20 price point, most Cabernet Sauvignons can be bottle aged for 7 – 17 years, Pinot Noirs, 4 – 10, Shiraz, 4 – 12, and Grenache, 3 – 8. [4]  Jancis has not lead me astray yet, and I trust these numbers; keep in mind there are always exceptions, and your cellar conditions need to be appropriate, especially if you’re considering aging your own wines in the bottles.

*Note that keeping value wines up to that 2-3 year mark is NOT going to enhance their flavour; think of that time frame like a best before date.

To determine how long the wine has been in the bottle, you’re going to have to do some math!  The year on the label is the year the grapes were harvested, not the year it was bottled necessarily, so if the label explains that it was aged in the winery for a certain number of years, you can add that time to the year on the label to get the bottling year.

If you’re looking to age a wine, remember to look for wines that are balanced in acidity, alcohol, residual sugar, or have some tannin to them.  You’ll want to spend a bit more on these ones, and watch out for synthetic cork. If you’ve got a lot of $20 to $30 wines sitting in your house, it may be time to have a party!  Let’s not let that wine go to waste.  Happy aging of the appropriate ones, and cheers to all the rest of them!

[1] Puckette, Madeline.  (2017, Feb.)  “How to Tell If A Wine Is Age-Worthy.”  Retrieved from https://winefolly.com/tutorial/how-to-tell-if-a-wine-is-age-worthy/

[2] Robinson, Jancis.  The Oxford Companion to Wine.  2015.  Oxford, UK; Oxford University Press.

[3] Robinson, Jancis.  The Oxford Companion to Wine.  2015.  Oxford, UK; Oxford University Press.

[4] Robinson, Jancis.  The Oxford Companion to Wine.  2015.  Oxford, UK; Oxford University Press.